asked the Minister of Food what report of the progress of harvest under the groundnut scheme in Tanganyika he has received.
Since the third week in March, when the crop prospects were good, most, but not all, of Tanganyika has suffered a widespread and severe drought, which has seriously affected both the groundnut and sunflower crops in the Central and Western Province, causing premature ripening. In consequence, harvesting of groundnuts began in the second week of April, a month before the normal time. No figures of yields will be available until the crop is decorticated at the central depots, but this year's crop in the Central Province, where most of the acreage already cleared lies, will obviously be seriously affected. On the other hand, it is encouraging to notice that the Southern Province, where by far the greater part of the scheme's acreage will lie, has not suffered nearly so severely from this general sub-continental drought.
I am sure we all agree with the Minister that it is very unfortunate that there has been this drought in Tanganyika, but of course that happens fairly regularly in those parts. Can he tell us a little about the prospective yield of the sunflower crop which is, I think, a bigger acreage than the groundnuts at Kongwa, because that was going to contribute very considerably to the total quantity of oil seeds we were to expect?
I cannot agree with the implications in the first part of the supplementary question that droughts occur very frequently in that part of the world. The rainfall is quite well known and the hon. Member can look up the average tables for himself. Droughts of this severity are quite rare, as a matter of fact. It will certainly affect the sunflower crop in Kongwa, as well as the groundnut crop. We do not know what will be the yield.
Does the right hon. Gentleman now wish to alter his statement, made on 14th March, that many thousands of tons of this groundnut oil would this year go into the margarine ration?
I think the right hon. Gentleman is misquoting me. I do not think I used the words "many thousands of tons." But certainly I do not want to alter the statement—which I think was the statement—that there would be a contribution to the margarine ration this year, and I repeat that statement. It will not be so large as it would have been if the crop had been larger.
With regard to the comparative failure in the East, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will pay more attention to the surplus quantity of groundnuts in the West of Africa?
For the last 18 months we have been paying the most close attention to the problem of moving that surplus down the Kano Railway, as the hon. Gentleman knows. I am glad to say the weekly movements now are nearly 2,000 tons up on last year.
asked the Minister of Food if, in view of the resignations of seven of the senior staff of the Overseas Food Corporation employed on the groundnut scheme in Tanganyika, he will strengthen the board of the Overseas Food Corporation to ensure that there is at headquarters a proper appreciation of the practical problems involved in making a success of this scheme.
I cannot accept the hon. Member's implication that the resignation of any executive in East Africa calls for special measures to strengthen the Board of the Overseas Food Corporation. In fact, almost all the changes that have taken place recently in the senior staff in East Africa result from the determination of the chairman and members of the Board to re-organise, build up and maintain an efficient local establishment, with a full appreciation of the practical problems involved in the enterprise. I can assure the House that the Board is fully aware of the need for practical experience. That is why the chairman and the majority of the members of the Board have been in East Africa almost continuously for the past three months.
Does not the Minister know that things are at sixes and sevens out there and that orders and counter-orders have been given each week? In view of the very disturbed state of mind of many of the staff, would he not think it wise now to strengthen the Board, as the Question suggests, by adding some people who have their feet on the ground and who already have had experience of African conditions?
No, Sir. I cannot agree with any of those implications and I do not agree for one moment that orders and counter-orders are being given. I do know that a small number of executives—four or five—have resigned and have been replaced by others and that, I think, was very wise action on the part of the Board.
Does not the Minister consider that these resignations point to the necessity of his reviewing the whole of this scheme in the new situation which exists in the world? Further, on the question of having experienced people, would he remember that he appointed as the original people at the head of this Corporation those who had had no experience at all in Africa?
No, Sir. Mr. Wakefield, for example, had 15 years' experience of agriculture in Tanganyika. These statements have no relation whatever to the facts.
Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether these seven resignations referred to were, in fact, voluntary resignations or whether they were, as he has given the House to believe by his answers, dismissals?
They were different in different cases. Two of them were doctors who were going back to other medical work in this country, and they were entirely voluntary, but some of the others were, in fact, at the wish of the Board.
Does the Minister really know who these executives are, because on the last occasion in the House, when I raised this issue, he made a mistake?
I have a list of their names before me, if that is what is meant by the hon. Member.